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SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the 2018 Hatsu Basho, and we’re down to just two undefeated rikishi atop the leaderboard. Yokozuna Kakuryu is looking like he always WISHES he would, strong and confident with a determined sense of purpose. Meanwhile, sekiwake Mitakeumi looks like he’s trying to take his already formidable sumo to the next level—he’s been in the upper division for two years now, and he’s shown great promise, now as a new crop of young phenoms is climbing the banzuke [ranking sheet], he’s looking to show that he’s one rung up the ladder from them.

Trailing behind the leaders is a group of four rikishi with 6–1 records—M3 Tochinoshin, M9 Shohozan, M13 Daieisho, and M16 Asanoyama. I’ll admit that Tochinoshin is one of my favorite rikishi, so I have rooting interest in him, but still he really does seem like the only one of the bunch who has a real chance at staying in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt for the long haul. His only loss has been to Kakuryu, and he’s already beaten both ozeki and a komusubi. After watching him struggle through chronic knee injuries for the past year-and-a-half, it’s great to see him looking healthy again.

Our two ozeki seem to be going in opposite directions. After both Goeido and Takayasu lost two matches midweek to fall out of the yusho race (at least for now), Goeido came back strong yesterday with a convincing win over komusubi Takakeisho. Meanwhile, Takayasu lost to M2 Ichinojo by playing right into the only winning strategy that the big lug has. The thing that keeps Ichinojo from succeeding at the highest level of sumo is that he is a one dimensional rikishi, and all the upper tier competitors can fairly easily block that assault and take the match into dimensions that Ichinojo can’t handle. But Takayasu didn’t do that yesterday, which says to me that his head wasn’t in the game. 

M12 Sokokurai (2–5) vs. M15 Ishura (4–3)—Ishiura is back up in the Makuuchi division after spending a few tournaments down in Juryo. He seems to have regained some of his inspiration, but still struggles against opponents who are generally bigger, heavier, and stronger than he is. I post this match mostly because I think the gyoji got the call wrong. Watch the replay and see if it doesn’t look like the “winner’s” knee doesn’t touch the clay before the loser’s does. (1:10)
M16 Asanoyama (6–1) vs. M12 Kagayaki (4–3)—Asanoyama held a piece of the lead until his loss to Daieisho yesterday. He’ll have to bounce back immediately if he wants to keep his name in the headlines. Luckily for him, Kagayaki is having another one of his hot-and-cold tournaments. Some days he comes out like a champion, other days it seems like his mind is somewhere else. If it’s the latter, Asanoyama should have no trouble staying in the yusho hunt. If it’s the former, though, this should be a closely fought match. (2:15)
M13 Daieisho (6–1) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (5–2)—Daieisho has looked terrific this tournament, most recently with his win over co-leader Asanoyama yesterday. He’s a long shot to actually stay in the yusho race all the way, but there’s no reason he can’t hang in for another few days and make a surge for double-digit wins and maybe a special prize. Unfortunately for him, though Chiyomaru is also looking very strong this tournament. Should be a good bout. (4:05)
M6 Takarafuji (4–3) vs. M9 Shohozan (6–1)—Shohozan is one of the few rikishi I generally root against. I just don’t like his rough-and-tumble, street sumo style of fighting. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or dirty about it, I just don’t enjoy it. But there’s no denying that it works well for him, and is doing so especially this basho. Takarafuji has historically had a difficult time against Shohozan, having lost nine of their ten matches. But he broke his losing streak in their last encounter, and I hope that was the start of a long winning streak for him. (4:55)
M2 Yoshikaze (3–4) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (6–1)—Tochinoshin notched his first loss yesterday, but he was facing a yokozuna so there’s no shame in that. He needs to bounce back right away with a win and he can stay in yusho hunt for a while. But he’s facing Yoshikaze, who has notched wins over two yokozuna and an ozeki so far this basho, so it won’t be easy. (8:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (3–4)—This match is something of a measure of just how far Mitakeumi has matured. Ichinojo is the biggest and heaviest rikishi in the division, and that allows him to dominate less experienced rikishi. However, opponents with more experience generally know the big Mongolian’s weak points and how to manipulate them fairly easily. If Mitakeumi is ready to step up and be a top tier rikishi, he has to be able to handle Ichinojo regularly and easily.  (11:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. M4 Shodai (4–3)—Kakuryu continues to look like the yokozuna he’s always wanted to be. Yesterday he handled Tochinoshin without any difficulty, and he should do the same today against Shodai. In the past, this is the kind of match where one might have expected Kakuryu to have a slip concentration and take a bad loss . . . but if he seems as if he’s beyond that this tournament. We’ll see. (14:30)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Hatsu Basho, and I apologize for having missed saying anything at all about Day 6 (then again, I did start off this tournament’s coverage with a warning that my commentary would be spotty). Anyway, I’m back today and the leaderboard is beginning to take shape. Only four undefeated rikishi remain—yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Tochinoshin, and M16 Asanoyama—with a small pack of 5–1 rikishi trailing them.

Another big change over the last few days is that two more rikishi have gone kyujo [absent due to injury]—yokozuna Kisenosato and M10 Aminishiki. Kisenosato was having a terrible tournament and probably should never have entered to begin with, but the Kyokai [Sumo Association] put him in a tough position. After missing so many matches last year, they publicly said that he needed to do better this year or it might be time for him to retire (they have the power to force him to do so), so he got himself into as good shape as he could manage and came out to fight. But he wasn’t ready, and while being kyujo MIGHT trigger a call for his retirement, fighting through a basho only to end up with a distinctly non-yokozuna record would have made it a CERTAINTY. Perhaps this was his best strategy—to show his game spirit by trying, then sitting down when it became clear that he was still too wounded to perform at a yokozuna level. It doesn’t guarantee that the Kyokai will be lenient and patient with him, but it does give him the best odds.

Meanwhile, Aminishiki bruised his shin bone in his match on Thursday and is taking a few days off to see how it begins to heal. If the swelling and pain go down, we’re likely to see him back in action during Week 2.

M3 Tochinoshin is looking GREAT. In fact, 6–0 is his best start to a basho EVER. Word is that he’s partially motivated by the recent birth of his first child, who is back in Georgia, and whom he hasn’t even seen yet. It certainly must ALSO have something to do with his knees feeling better than they have in a couple of years. In any case, he has beaten both ozeki and a komusubi so far, and faces yokozuna Kakuryu (who is also undefeated) today. This will be the final match of the day, but it’s ALSO likely to be the best one. Given that both rikishi are performing at the top of their game, I have to give the edge to Kakuryu . . . but I’ll be rooting for Tochinoshin!

Goeido has looked terrific at the start of this basho. I often give him guff for not performing up to his potential, and even more for not performing up to his ranking. He COULD be a strong ozeki, but most tournaments he loses his focus for a handful of matches, takes losses he shouldn’t, and too often flirts with or gets make-koshi [majority of losses] instead of double-digit wins like an ozeki should. He even looked strong and dominant in his first loss (to Tochinoshin). But then yesterday he looked confused and hapless in a quick slapdown loss to M2 Yoshikaze, and now I have to wonder WHICH Goeido we’re going to see for the rest of the tournament.

Likewise, the other ozeki—Takayasu—started off very strong, then lost to Tochinoshin and followed up yesterday with an upset loss to komusubi Onosho. Takayasu simply was out-thought and out-fought by the young rikishi, and he looked flustered and confused when the bout was over. I’m hoping that BOTH ozeki get back on track and become forces that influence the coming yusho [tournament championship] race. Right now, with two losses apiece, they’re on the outside looking in, but chances are good that if they can get back on winning streaks, they’ll find the pack falling back to meet them.

M16 Asanoyama (6–0) vs. M13 Daieisho (5–1)—Asanoyama is the dark horse leader, running racking up wins over opponents at the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. If he can continue through the weekend and get up to 8–0, we might have to start taking him seriously.  (1:45)
M2 Kotoshogiku (2–4) vs. komusubi Onosho (3–3)—So far this basho, Kotoshogiku has been fighting like a man with something to prove. He wants to be back in sanyaku, and he’s taking it out on anyone who’s currently up there. Meanwhile, Onosho has just been a little too energetic, and not practicing the patient sumo that allowed him to rocket his way up to komusubi. He’s got to slow down and be deliberate, ESPECIALLY against opponents ranked lower than he is. (8:40)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–0) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (3–3)—Mitakeumi is one of our remaining undefeated co-leaders, and Yoshikaze is only batting .500. However, Yoshikaze’s three wins have come against two yokozuna and an ozeki, so he’s earning his reputation as a giant-killer. Mitakeumi better be careful not to fall to Yoshikaze’s tricky ways. (10:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (6–0) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (6–0)—Two undefeated rikishi going head-to-head. The advantage clearly is Kakuryu’s—over the course of their careers the yokozuna is 20–1 against Tochinoshin. But all that really matters is who brings the right stuff today. (14:20)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 6)

Sorry, no time for commentary today … just the video for you all to enjoy.

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Hatsu Basho brings us our first big twist—yokozuna Hakuho has joined the kyujo [absent due to injury] list. He jammed his left big toe in yesterday’s loss to M2 Yoshikaze and photos from the locker room afterward showed that it was already swelling and deeply bruised. This goes along with the nagging problem he’s had with his right big toe over the past year results in him pulling out of the tournament. Doctors say this will take at least two weeks to heal, so we for sure won’t see him back this basho.

That leaves only two yokozuna, but that seems unlikely to continue for long. Kisenosato is looking terrible with his 1–3 loss, including falling to his longtime rival M2 Kotoshogiku yesterday. I know that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has threatened to force Kisenosato to retire if he doesn’t start competing for complete tournaments, but they FOR CERTAIN will do so if stays and turns in a final record that’s barely kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Another upset yesterday was ozeki Takayasu suffering his first loss of the basho at the hands of M3 Tochinoshin. This, however, is at least understandable. Tochinoshin is fighting with healthy legs for the first time in a very great while, and when he’s in that condition he generally can be counted on to be competitive with ozeki-level opponents. This is, in fact, the first time ever that Tochinoshin has started a tournament 4–0, so he could be a dark horse competitor for the yusho [tournament championship].

Tochinoshin’s opponent today is the other ozeki, who also remains undefeated, Goeido. Goeido has looked very sharp this basho, similar to how he did in the 2016 Kyushu tournament when he shocked us all by going zensho [perfect record] and winning the yusho. If Tochinoshin can pull out another upset, though, he’ll at the very least make me look like I know what I’m talking about.

Yokozuna Kakuryu also remains undefeated, but it’s a testament to how skeptical I am that he can keep his focus for the whole basho that I only begin to mention him here. That’s actually pretty unfair of me. Kakuryu definitely has what it takes to win the yusho, and he tends to thrive when the other yokozuna all go kyujo and it’s up to him alone to uphold the rank’s honor.

M5 Okinoumi (1–3) vs. M5 Endo (3–1)—Two of the most popular rikishi facing off. It’s early in the tournament, but so far Endo seems to be on a roll while Okinoumi is struggling. But anything could happen today. (8:10)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–0) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (2–2)—Carrying over from yesterday, here’s another match-up between two of the up-and comers. Oh, and it’s also a head-to-head match of this tournament’s two sekiwake. Should be a very good bout. (11:15)
M1 Hokutofuji (1–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (3–1)—Takayasu lost to a strong opponent in M3 Tochinoshin yesterday, but he’s got to shake it off and get back in a winning way. He’s got another strong opponent in Hokutofuji today. (11:55)
Ozeki Goeido (4–0) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (4–0)—Tochinoshin is having his best start to a basho ever, and beat an ozeki yesterday. He’s got the other ozeki today, and Goeido is looking as stong as he has since his yusho-winning tournament a year ago. This could be the match of the day. (13:10)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (4–0) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (0–4)—Kakuryu is still undefeated and setting the pace for the yokozuna. He shouldn’t have any trouble with Chiyotairyu. (15:40)
M2 Yoshikaze (1–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–3)—Yoshikaze got a kinboshi [gold star award] for his win over Hakuho yesterday, and he’d surely love to get another from Kisenosato today. Given how wobbly the yokozuna has been so far this tournament, I’m not sure I wouldn’t actually give the edge to Yoshikaze. But Kisenosato KNOWS that he MUST get a win or his entire career is in jeopardy. (16:15)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 4)

Day 4 of the Hatsu Basho dawns with some interesting complications. First of all, TWO yokozuna lost yesterday. In the upset of the day, Hakuho gave up a kinboshi by losing [gold star award] to M1 Hokutofuji. Since Hakuho was (as he usually is) the presumptive favorite to win the yusho [tournament championship], this knocks the competition wide open. Seven rikishi remain undefeated at this early stage, including yokozuna Kakuryu and both ozeki, so this really is anyone’s tournament to win. And, of course, unless there’s some underlying problem, Hakuho is still extremely likely to stay right in the hunt all the way to the final weekend.

However, the more impactful yokozuna loss was suffered by Kisenosato, his second loss which increases the challenge he faces in trying to prove to the Kyokai [Sumo Association] that he’s worth keeping around. As I discussed yesterday, based on his mostly absent performance in 2017, the Kyokai has said that Kisenosato has to start performing like a yokozuna or they will “request” that he retire.

Both ozeki looked strong on Day 3, with Goeido making short work of former-ozeki M2 Kotoshogiku, and Takayasu rolling M3 Chiyotairyu nearly as quickly. Sekiwake Mitakeumi beat fellow young upstart komusubi Onosho, taking a 3–1 lead in their head-to-head rivalry. And in a battle of two titans, rikishi M3 Tochinoshin overpowered M5 Okinoumi, showing that the Georgian may actually be healthy again after more than a year of nagging knee pain.

M14 Abi (1–2) vs. M16 Ryuden (1–2)—Two rikishi who this basho are both ranked in the Makuuchi Division for the very first time, and both currently sit with 1–2 records. They’s also both rikishi that pundits have been saying good things about. Watch this match, and remember these names. (1:20)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (2–1)—After beating one komusubi (Onosho) yesterday, Mitakeumi takes on the other one today. Takakeisho is another of the “next gen” rikishi, so this is another match that could be part of a rivalry that will grow over the coming decade. (9:10)
Komusubi Onosho (0–3) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (2–1)—And two more up-and-comers going head-to-head. Onosho is considered by many to be the cream of the crop, despite his current winless status. He’s had the misfortune to face a yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake to start off the basho (that’s why komusubi is the toughest spot on the banzuke). (10:30)
M3 Tochinoshin (3–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (3–0)—Tochinoshin has looked strong and healthy the first couple of days. Today that REALLY gets tested against ozeki Takayasu. Both have perfect records so far, we’ll see which one “blinks” today. (12:45)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (1–2)—Kakuryu is the only yokozuna left with a perfect record, and he’s also the one who has historically been most unreliable. We’ll see if he can stay focused and beat the waddling wonder, Ichinojo. (13:55)
M2 Kotoshogiku (0–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–2)—This is the 67th time that these two have faced each other. For years they were both ozeki, but fate has cast them in different lights over the past eighteen months. Still, in this basho Kotoshogiku has looked strong-but-flawed, while Kisenosato has looked like he’s covering for an ongoing injury. (14:35)
Yokozuna Hakuho (2–1) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (0–3)—Hakuho got flat out beaten at the tachi-ai [initial charge] yesterday, which almost never happens. Today he can’t just make up for that with an extra burst of speed because he’s fighting the tricky Yoshikaze, who may decide to dodge rather than fight. Really, Hakuho just has to settle down and go back to doing his usual brand of sumo. (16:00)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Hatsu Basho, and things are looking good. Just about everyone in the top half of the banzuke has done strong sumo on the first couple of days . . . with the exception of yokozuna Kisenosato. He DID manage to win his Day 2 match against M1 Hokutofuji, but he still didn’t look dominant. He really needs to get himself focused if he doesn’t want to face some uncomfortable questions from the YDC [Yokozuna Deliberation Committee] (a group of influential fans that provides recommendations to the Kyokai [Sumo Association] about yokozuna promotions and retirements.

We already have our first withdrawl—M10 Terunofuji is kyujo [absent due to injury] as of Day 3 due to pain in his knee (at least one source reported it as complications of diabetes). He already began the tournament in trouble, having been dropped eleven spots from sekiwake to M10 due to his terrible performance in November. The hope was that even with his injured knees he could compete against opponents at this level, but that was soundly dashed by his performances on the first two days. If he doesn’t manage to return later in the tournament and at least make a solid run at kachi-koshi [majority of wins], he seems surely destined to be demoted down into the Juryo Division. If that happens, I think it will be at least a year until we see him back in the top division again.

Someone who is looking good after two days is M3 Tochinoshin, the big Georgian rikishi who has been struggling with chronic knee injuries for the past couple of years. When he’s healthy, he has been among the best in the sport, having been very seriously considered for an ozeki promotion. But his legs haven’t been strong enough to overcome top-level opponents for a while, and so he has bounced up and down the Makuuchi division, and even spent time down in Juryo. This basho, though, he looks stronger than he has since 2016. If that condition lasts, he could be a dark horse contender for the yusho. At the very least, he’ll provide some exciting matches against the top dogs.

Maezumo—When a rikishi is brand new to sumo, he only fights one match in his first honbasho [grand tournament]. This is called “maezumo” which loosely translates as “before sumo.” It’s your chance to have a debut before the you head into the meat grinder. At this Hatsu Basho, there are three rikishi of interest having their maezumo: Naya, the grandson of dai-yokozuna Taiho; Hoshoryu, the nephew of the first Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu; and collegiate yokozuna Nakanishi. (6:35)
M5 Okinoumi (1–1) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (2–0)—Tochinoshin’s knees will get a good test today against another big man. Okinoumi’s problems have always been mental, not physical, and the has the power to go toe-to-toe with Tochinoshin. (9:05)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–0) vs. komusubi Onosho (0–2)—Two of the top up-and-comers going head-to-head. This is a good chance for Onosho to calm down after rushing through his first two matches against a yokozuna and ozeki (Hakuho and Goeido respectively). Meanwhile, this is Mitakeumi’s fourth straight basho as a sekiwake, but he has to start getting double-digit wins if he ever wants to be considered for a promotion to ozeki. (10:40)
M1 Ichinojo (0–2) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–1)—If Kisenosato is basically healthy and strong, he should have no problem with Ichinojo. He might have to be a little patient, as Hakuho was yesterday against the M1, but Ichinojo has no weapons other than his size and weight . . . and Kisenosato is his equal in both departments. However, if there is some basic weakness in Kisenosato—a lingering pain, or a weak limb—Ichinojo may be able to quite literally lean on it. (12:40)
Yokozuna Hakuho (2–0) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (0–2)—Hokutofuji has been very sharp the last few tournaments, and he looks that way so far this one, too. Unfortunately for him, his first two opponents were yokozuna (Kakuryu and Kisenosato) and he’s got to face the best of the grand champions today. He has what it takes to beat a yokozuna (having gotten at least one kinboshi [gold star award for a Makuuchi rikishi beating a yokozuna] in each of the past three tournaments, but the smart money is on Hakuho. (14:05)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Hatsu Basho, and the 2018 sumo “season” is off to a good start. The only real upset to speak of was yokozuna Kisenosato’s loss to komusubi Takakeisho, and that’s a good lead-in to discussing the current status of things in the sanyaku ranks (most notably, among the yokozuna).

As you may remember from November’s Kyushu Basho, yokozuna Harumafuji was caught up in a scandal. Word was that during the fall jungyo [exhibition tour] he’d gotten drunk one evening and hit another rikishi over the head with a beer bottle for not showing enough respect him or some other yokozuna. The truth turns out to be much more complex than that, but basically boils down to the fact that he DID, in fact, assault a lower-ranked rikishi, and that rikishi’s oyakata [stable master] reported it to the police. Many of the details are still in dispute, but the amount described in the previous sentence no one denies, including Harumafuji . . . and given that much, he had no honorable choice left other than retirement, effective immediately.

So rather than four yokozuna, we are now back down to three—but perhaps not for long. During the interim between tournaments, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] made public statements about the recent performances of both yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Kisenosato, declaring them not to be acceptable. Kakuryu only competed in all fifteen days of ONE tournament in 2017, for the other five he either pulled out early or missed the tournament entirely due to injury. He only participated in 32 matches during the whole of the year. Kisenosato started 2017 strong with back-to-back yusho [tournament championships] and a promotion to yokozuna, but he injured himself badly in the final days of his second championship, and only competed in 24 matches for the rest of the year.

The Kyokai has said that they expect both Kakuryu and Kisenosato to get back into regular competition as soon as possible. And if, when they do, their performances are not up to yokozuna standards (a minimum of ten wins per tournament), the Kyokai will “ask” them to retire. Both yokozuna have decided to participate in the Hatsu Basho. And while Kakuryu won in convincing fashion on Day 1, Kisenosato lost his first match and looked unsteady on his feet.

If Kisenosato can’t find it in himself to reach double-digit wins, the fans may have to say sayonara to the first Japanese-born yokozuna they’ve seen in nearly fifteen years. And if Kisenosato can’t do the same, we may enter the March tournament with only ONE yokozuna atop the banzuke. So, what I’m saying is, we better enjoy them while we can!

M10 Terunofuji (0–1) vs. M11 Kotoyuki (1–0)—Based on his performance yesterday, we ought to enjoy Terunofuji while we can, too. Because he looks like he’s headed for a demotion into Juryo real soon. Of course, that was just one day. Today he faces Kotoyuki, who he should be able to handle . . . hopefully. (4:00)
M6 Ikioi (0–1) vs. M5 Endo (1–0)—Two popular rikishi, this match-up is always a fan favorite. On Day 1 Ikioi seemed to be in his rushing-rather-than-thinking mode, and Endo seemed to be in his if-I-wait-long-enough-my-opponent-will-make-a-mistake mode. If those trends continue today, that favors Endo. (7:15)
Ozeki Goeido (1–0) vs. komusubi Onosho (0–1)—Goeido is looking to put together a whole two weeks of solid, ozeki-level performance. Onosho looked a little nervous and rushed yesterday against Hakuho. Let’s see if they both can stay calm and show their best sumo. (10:50)
M2 Kotoshogiku (0–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—A match I look forward to every basho—former ozeki vs. new ozeki. More and more, though, this is becoming Takayasu’s match to lose. (11:35)
Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (0–1)—Ichinojo is up at M1 again, which is usually when he proves that he belongs down around M5 or M6. But he’s certainly got the BODY to compete at this level if he can just get his mind right and his spirit high. Hakuho will test anyone’s spirit, and usually come out the winner. (13:00)
M1 Hokutofuji (0–1) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (0–1)—Kisenosato NEEDS to start winning and looking like a yokozuna again SOON, or he might not be around for many more tournaments.  (15:40)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 1)

Wow, two months have FLOWN by . . . and now it’s time for another honbasho [sumo grand tournament], the first one of the new year! As with every New Year’s Tournament, this one is being held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan (the national sumo arena in the Ryogoku Ward of Tokyo.

A lot has happened since the end of the Kyushu Basho. As you may recall, there were several brewing scandals back in November, and they bubbled and spread throughout the end of the year. I’ll get to those in a soon enough. First, though, I want to apologize ahead of time for the fact that my coverage is going to be spottier than usual this basho. I’ll certainly be able to get daily video links (provided the sources are available) . . . but I’m not going to be able to provide the same in-depth commentary that I have for recent tournaments. My schedule is just too busy. Still, I’ll be sure to provide notes and insights that will explain anything especially impactful. I just won’t be giving as many of my usual thoughts on the ebb and flow of the tournament. 

As if to prove my point, I’m just going to dive into today’s match coverage. Come back tomorrow if you want to know more about the scandals and the overall line-up of the banzuke [ranking sheet] for this tournament.

M10 Terunofuji vs. M9 Chiyomaru—After another TERRIBLE tournament in November, Terunofuji has been dropped all the way down from the rank of sekiwake to Maegashira 10. If his knees aren’t strong enough to handle the challenges at this level, he’s going to be down in Juryo for March. (6:00)
M6 Takarafuji vs. M5 Endo—Endo looked strong and healthy in November, now he’s up in the ranks where he as always struggled in the past. Will the new, beefier Endo fair better than his smaller self did? (8:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M2 Kotoshogiku—These two always seem to have interesting matches. They’re in kind of polar opposite points in their careers. Mitakeumi is a next generation rikishi trying to prove that he deserves to be our next ozeki, while Kotoshogiku is still trying to cling to his ozeki pride, despite having been demoted from that rank a year ago. (11:00)
M2 Yoshikaze vs. ozeki Takayasu—It’s to Takayasu’s advantage to face Yoshikaze early in the tournament. The “giant killer” hasn’t gotten a chance to warm up OR start to play mind games with his opponents, and the ozeki is still hale and healthy (too often, in recent tournaments, Takayasu has been clearly nursing some minor injury by the time these two have squared off). Should be straight-ahead good sumo. (11:55)
Komusubi Takakeisho vs. yokozuna Kisenosato—Kisenosato MUST have a good (and complete) tournament this basho or he may be forced to retire. That having been said, he didn’t look 100% in his pre-basho warm-up matches. We’ll have to wait and see what he brings to the actual dohyo . . . and for how many days he can keep on bringing it. (13:50)
Yokozuna Hakuho vs. komusubi Onosho—A terrific match to end the day with. Hakuho, the current and undisputed king of the ring against Onosho, who many consider to be the top of the current class of next-generation rikishi. (15:15)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho, Senshuraku [The Final Day] (Day 15)

Well, those fifteen days went really quickly! It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2017 Kyushu Basho! With his explosive win over M9 Endo and the losses of both M4 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi, yokozuna Hakuho has secured the yusho [tournament championship]—the 4oth of his illustrious career. He still has to fight ozeki Goeido today, but it’s really just to decide whether he’ll win with a 14–1 or a 13–2 record . . . and whether Goeido can reach double-digit victories.

Hakuho began the tournament having publicly predicted a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship], and he very nearly pulled it off. If not to for that mental error of thinking there was a matta [re-do] in his match against sekiwake Yoshikaze, he’d be fighting for that perfect record today, and probably getting it. The thing is, he seems so fit and strong, there seems to be no reason he won’t get a good chance at another zensho-yusho in 2018 (he already has thirteen of them, far and away the most by any rikishi ever).

Another accolade that Hakuho’s win yesterday secured for him was title of Most Wins in 2017. Despite the fact that he was kyujo [absent due to injury] for 25 matches during the year, he managed to rack up 55 wins out of the remaining 65 matches (with there still being the likelihood that he’ll increase that number to 56 today). His closest competitors this year were sekiwake Mitakeumi and M1 Takakeisho (two of the young phenoms who have risen through the ranks this year) who each currently have 53 wins, with one match remaining to fight. 

Speaking of Mitakeumi, he secured his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] yesterday. This means that he’ll remain a sekiwake to begin 2018. It also means that he was kachi-koshi in EVERY basho of 2017, something you don’t normally see from such a young rikishi, particularly given that he spent the whole year near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (In fact, thanks to all the injury withdrawals, this year Mitakeumi is the ONLY rikishi in the Makuuchi Division to be kachi-koshi in all six of the hon-basho in 2017.) He was M1 in January, and in sanyaku for the rest of the year, which means that he fought pretty much exactly the same mix of opponents that the yokozuna and ozeki did, and he managed to win at least eight matches in EVERY tournament. I think it’s pretty clear that if he can remain injury-free, he’ll be the next rikishi to make a serious run at promotion to ozeki (particularly if the current scandals cause one or more of the yokozuna to retire).

Another eventual ozeki, komusubi Onosho, has struggled hard to overcome his difficult Week 1 schedule (typical for a komusubi) and get his fourth kachi-koshi in a row. He was 1–6 at the end of Week 1, and has 6–1 since nakabi [the middle day]. If he can win today against M5 Takarafuji, he’ll get his eighth win and really prove something about his character.

I’ll try to put together a basho and year-end wrap-up post sometime in the coming week. But until then, let’s have a look at today’s top matches. As I usually do on senshuraku, I’ll list all of the matches that involve rikishi whose records are 7–7 and will have their fates decided today. There are fewer of these than usual, and the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has decided in two cases to pit a pair of 7–7 rikishi against each other, just to ratchet up the tension.

So you know, the term “densha michi” literally means “going by train,” and it is used in sumo to describe a bout where one rikishi charges in hard at the tachi-ai and blows his opponent backwards (and usually off the dohyo). “Hit like a train” would be a good translation.

M6 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M13 Aminishiki (7–7)—Two rikishi who are on the verge between kachi- and make-koshi. Aminishiki is who I’m rooting for. The 39-year-old rikishi has only just returned to the Makuuchi Division and it’s clear what a struggle he’ll have to stay here. Still, he spent the first half of the week showing us that sometimes it pays to bet on experience over youth and power. If Aminishiki wins, he’ll not only get his kachi-koshi, he’ll also be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize). (4:10)
M4 Chiyonokuni (5–9) vs. M13 Takekaze (7–7)—Takekaze is the second-oldest rikishi in the upper division at 38 years old. Like Aminishiki, he’s having a harder time in recent tournaments simply keeping up with the younger rikishi, and it’s good to see him here with a fighting chance to secure a majority of wins. I’m definitely rooting for him. (5:45)
M12 Okinoumi (11–3) vs. M1 Takakeisho (9–5)—After facing M1 Tamawashi yesterday, Okinoumi must face the other M1 today. He’s had a great tournament and regardless of what happens today will be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize) for his effort. Takakeisho continues to show that he’s one of the top young rikishi, and would dearly like to move his record into double-digit wins. Regardless of the outcome, though, he will be awarded a shukun-sho (outstanding performance special prize). (8:35)
M1 Tamawashi (10–4) vs. M4 Hokutofuji (11–3)—Tamawashi finishes off his tournament by facing both of the second-place rikishi—Okinoumi yesterday and Hokutofuji today. Particularly today, he wants to prove his superiority because he and Hokutofuji will be competing for the same promotions as the first banzuke of 2o18 is drawn up. For his part, Hokutofuji will be awarded a gino-sho (technique special prize) due to his incredible performance over the past fortnight. (9:05)
M5 Takarafuji (7–7) vs. komusubi Onosho (7–7)—Another match where two 7–7 rikishi are forced to go head-to-head. Onosho still has never had a make-koshi in the Makuuchi Division (this being only his fourth tournament in the upper division), and he’d for sure like to be promoted to sekiwake in January if possible. (9:40)
Ozeki Goeido (9–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (13–1)—The final match of the day has nothing in particular riding on it. Hakuho has secured his 40th yusho, and Goeido has managed to squeak into a kachi-koshi. But, pride being what it is among the top rankers, I expect that this will be a hard-fought match. I also expect that Hakuho will come out the winner without very much trouble. (13:35)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 14)

Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend of the 2017 Kyushu Basho. Day 14 dawns with yokozuna Hakuho still alone atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record, and just two rikishi trailing him at 11–2 (M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi). Also we have our ninth (!) kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho as M15 Myogiryu has withdrawn after getting his eighth loss and guaranteeing make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion to Juryo to start of 2018.

Hakuho had one major slip-up, but otherwise has seemed practically unbeatable. If he wins today, he’s guaranteed at least a tie for the championship and a shot at a Day 15 playoff. Presuming for the moment that this happens, each of the trailers must win today or be eliminated from contention. And if Hakuho wins and BOTH trailers lose, then the yokozuna will secure his 40th (!) yusho [tournament championship].

But beyond the yusho race, there are other interesting dramas going on up and down the banzuke. 

Komusubi Onosho is in just his fourth basho at the Makuuchi level. He went 10–5 in all three previous tournaments, but is currently 6–7. He needs to win both of his remaining matches to keep from suffering his first make-koshi in the division . . . which is not to say that he’s had a bad tournament. Komusubi is probably the most difficult ranking, schedule-wise. You spend Week 1 facing all of the yokozuna, ozeki, and sekiwake, hoping to pull out just one or two wins, and then must be near-perfect in Week 2 in order to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. It’s a tough slog, which is one reason why you don’t historically see many rikishi stake out a claim as a “great komususbi.” Onosho seems destined to be a great rikishi of the coming era. So long as he can avoid injury, he’ll surely be a mainstay of the top of the banzuke and is very likely to make it to ozeki eventually. (Hell, he very nearly qualified in his first three tournaments.)

Also at 6–7 and needing to win out to save his rank is sekiwake Yoshikaze. As is his wont, he has looked great when facing the ozeki and yokozuna, but has been slightly less impressive against the rest of the field. In the big picture, all rikishi in a given tournament who are ranked M2 and above face more or less the exact same mix of opponents, the only real difference is the order that they come (see my earlier comment about what makes komusubi such a tough rank). It’s interesting to me that some rikishi seem to be so much better at some ranks than others. Yoshikaze seems to thrive at M1, but to struggle at sekiwake. It’d be interesting to dive into the records and figure out what patterns are really at work there.

I haven’t said much about M3 Hokutofuji this basho, expect to keep mentioning his name as one of the yusho contenders. The fact is, though, that he’s been putting on quite a show. He’s only been in the Makuuchi Division for a little more than a year, but he’s racking up impressive wins and showing himself to be a future star (and may yet walk away with the Emperor’s Cup this basho). 

Other young rikishi who are doing well and showing that the “next generation” is here now include M1 Takakeisho and, of course, sekiwake Mitakeumi. In other words, no matter what the shake-out is of the various scandals being deliberated by the Kyokai [Sumo Association], the sport itself seems poised to be healthy and entertaining for years to come.

Now let’s look at some of the top matches from Saturday.

M10 Kaisei (8–5) vs. M10 Ikioi (7–6)—Two familiar names that haven’t really drawn that much attention this tournament. Both these rikishi have been doing well, but not spectacular. As you can see, Kaisei has his kachi-koshi and Ikioi needs only one more win to secure his. Putting them head-to-head results in a fun bout. (2:00)
M13 Aminishiki (7–6) vs. M8 Chiyomaru (5–8)—Aminishiki started off the basho hot, but has cooled off in Week 2. It seems to me that people remembered what the key was to beating him and have started employing it again, and he may have a very hard time notching that eighth win. Still, he’s got two more chances, beginning with today’s match against Chiyomaru. (3:20)
M1 Tamawashi (9–4) vs. M12 Okinoumi (11–2)—Is this more of a compliment to Okinoumi to bring the M1 down to fight him early on today’s match list, or an insult to Tamawashi for not making his opponent leap up to the later spot on the card that a M1 usually earns? It doesn’t really matter, the facts remain the same—Okinoumi must win to guarantee that he stays in the yusho hunt, and Tamawashi wants to hit double-digit wins to improve his likelihood of promotion to sanyaku in January. (5:55)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (4–9) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–10)—Another one of those matches where nothing but pride is on the line, and that seems to have spurred the rikishi to new heights. A very fun bout! (8:25)
M3 Hokutofuji (11–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (6–7)—This is probably the marquee match of the day. Hokutofuji must win to guarantee he’s still involved in the yusho race, and Onosho must win if he hopes to pull out a kachi-koshi. They’re two of the brightest young stars in the sport, and their head-to-head rivalry is likely to be going on for the next decade or more. (9:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. M5 Arawashi (8–5)—One can forgive Mitakeumi for looking a little overwhelmed when he faced Hakuho on Day 12, but he also seemed mentally elsewhere yesterday in his match against Ichinojo. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, and I’m sure he’d rather not leave that to the final day. Meanwhile, Arawashi has had himself a very good tournament and still has a shot at double-digit wins. (12:30)
M9 Endo (9–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (12–1)—It says something about how many of the top rikishi are absent that on Day 14 Hakuho is fighting someone ranked at M9. Sure, Endo is a very popular rikishi with a very good record, but in the final weekend a yokozuna is supposed to be fighting against other yokozuna, or at least ozeki. But there’s only one of those still in the competition, so the Scheduling Committee had to find SOMEONE for Hakuho to fight. That’s not to say this is necessarily a walk-over. Endo HAS beaten Hakuho once in the five times they’ve met. But Hakuho has to be the odds-on favorite by a longshot. (14:35)